Tuesday 19 January 2016

Review ~ The Widow by Fiona Barton

Random House UK Transworld Publishers
Bantam Press
January 14 2016

Sometimes a book hits my book radar long before it's published and there has been a fair amount of hype on social media about The Widow, so my expectation was high long before I started to read what is being hailed as the psychological thriller of 2016. Despite the hype, I always try to have an open mind about any book I read, preferring, where I can, to make up  my own mind.

And so to The Widow, which, for me, has all the elements of a highly inventive story. The eponymous widow, Jean Taylor, is our guide over much of the story, she's the quintessential unstable narrator, because, as the books flips around in time, we are never quite sure of what to make of her. We know at the very start of the novel that her husband, Glen, is dead, that comes as no spoiler, after all, the clue is in the title, but, as this rather tragic story starts to unfold, do I really believe Jean’s version of events, can I reconcile what’s happening behind closed doors, with the naivety of a woman who disregards her husband’s rather bizarre behaviour as his bit of ‘nonsense’?

I am quite taken with this newly emerging domestic noir genre, and I quite believe that The Widow is up there with the best of them. It’s a clever book, well controlled but not overly demonstrative. It has a quiet confidence and a really subtle touch, and the narrative very quickly draws you into a story of two people who are each superbly flawed, and it must be said, totally unlikable, but for very different reasons. Glen Taylor has no redeeming features, he’s dark and dirty, a dangerous manipulator who schemes and plans and ever so subtly undermines everything that is right and proper. And then there’s Jean the widow, alone, vulnerable, carrying secrets and making up lies, twisting the truth, planning small victories as she sees them, but with long reaching repercussions. 

I’m not going to tell you anything about the plot, counter plot and all the manipulations that occur as that would be to do the author a complete disservice. What I will say is that I read the story quickly, starting it early one morning as heavy clouds overhead started to snow, and so the coldness of the story started to seep into my bones, and I found that I couldn’t leave the book alone until, with tired eyes, I had read the story in one sitting.

Some people have felt a bit let down by the ending, but I think that it was a perfectly acceptable way to wrap up the story. I agree that’s there’s no dramatic dénouement, but for me that’s where the strength of the story lies, in the multi-layered minutiae of ordinary lives, which should have been oh, so normal and yet, which, in the final analysis, went horribly wrong.

Best read with honey laced, frothy hot milk and chunks of bitter chocolate.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, Bantam Press
for my copy of The Widow.


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